Australian team mentor Steve Waugh looks on during a training session. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Australian team mentor Steve Waugh looks on during a training session. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Bancroft blows Steve Waugh’s mind

Cameron Bancroft has further perfected his stoic short-leg fielding at Australia's main training session before the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, where the opener is within touching distance of a recall.

Bancroft, returning to Australia's Test squad for the first time since serving a nine-month ban for his role in the Cape Town cheating scandal, and incumbent Marcus Harris remain locked in a tight battle to open with David Warner in the series opener that starts on Thursday.

Selectors were mulling a top three of Warner, Harris and Bancroft should Usman Khawaja be unavailable because of his hamstring injury.

Khawaja passed his fitness test on Monday during Australia's marathon session that was extended beyond normal limits because rain is predicted for both Tuesday and Wednesday.

The speed in which the 32-year-old sprinted between the wickets, under the watchful supervision of team staff, suggests that either Harris or Bancroft will be squeezed out of the XI in Birmingham.

Warner left the nets alongside the team physio after copping a nasty blow, having inside edged a Michael Neser delivery onto his thigh, but management insist it's nothing more serious than a bruise.

One of the more intriguing scenes at Edgbaston was the pairing of Harris and Steve Waugh working together to deliver sharp close-in catches for Bancroft.


Harris and Waugh took turns hitting the ball at Bancroft, ensuring he was able to work on reacting to a left-hander and right-hander.

Bancroft's pain tolerance and reflexes at bat-pad, a fielding position generally reserved for the most inexperienced player in the team, is legendary. Even Waugh, who saw plenty in a 168-Test career and is now serving as an Ashes consultant at Justin Langer's invitation, has been stunned.

"The one thing I have been amazed by is Cameron Bancroft's short leg practise," Waugh told reporters.

"I had a session with him the other day and I've never seen anything like it. I hit probably forty balls to him at closerange, back in our day he might have caught 10 of those. I think he caught 39. So if he plays, England beware because he's the best short leg I've ever seen.

"When we were playing, no-one wanted to be in at short leg and it was like a torture chamber to put someone in there but he just loves it."

Bancroft displayed similar stoicism in his matchwinning knock of 93 not out against teammates last week, during which he copped several blows on a borderline dangerous pitch.

Tim Paine joked Bancroft seemingly has a "screw loose" because "he seems to enjoy getting hit on the body, it seems to make him bat better".

Cameron Bancroft (right) is ready to return. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Cameron Bancroft (right) is ready to return. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)


Few series will test Australia's new on-field mantra, based on respect rather than rage, like this Ashes but Steve Waugh has made it clear the tourists won't be "shrinking violets".

The behaviour of Justin Langer's team has been under the microscope since the Cape Town cheating scandal and ensuing cultural review.

Australia and every side competing at the recent World Cup earned a big tick from the International Cricket Council, whose operations manager Geoff Allardice observed "the respect between teams and the game itself was at a level that we perhaps hadn't seen before".

But a switch to the longest and most revered format for the sport's showpiece series, coupled with abuse from England's fans and most likely players, mean the heat will likely rise when the Ashes start at Edgbaston on Thursday.

Jimmy Anderson acknowledged this week "it's generally quite heated when you play Australia", while England's director of cricket Ashley Giles noted there will be "incidents in this series that some people think are over the top or a bit too much".

"With the more cameras we have, stump mics. It's difficult when things boil over to keep them just on the field but both sides are desperate to win," Giles said.

How Australia reacts in those situations, having started the 2017-18 Ashes with Nathan Lyon declaring he hopes Australia end some careers while David Warner spoke of "war" and "hatred" of the opposition, will be intriguing.

"This side is going to be combative, that's the Australian way. I think they know that they can't cross over the line," Waugh said.

Rip their heads off. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Rip their heads off. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

"These guys have played in a fantastic spirit since (the ball-tampering saga). They play with conviction, they play with courage and they'll be up for a fight.

"They know how to play in the right spirit and they're not going to be shrinking violets out there."

Waugh forged a reputation for his dominant side's "mental disintegration" of rivals. "I actually didn't coin that phrase but I've got it next to my name. I guess it's disorienting the opposition through extreme pressure," the former skipper said.

Pantomime villain Stuart Broad suggested he didn't know what to expect from the new-look team captained by Tim Paine.

"We've seen 'get ready for a broken arm', we've seen Ricky Ponting making sure their players don't look at us … to create this warrior image," Broad said. "This year, they could come over with this new 'take your shoes and socks off mentality' like they did before the World Cup semi-final."

Langer's barefoot ritual at cricket grounds was embraced by the entire squad in Birmingham during the recent one-day tournament.